Thursday, October 21, 2010

World Holy Name Festival Harinamas

Unfortunately, I have not yet surrendered to organizing a full schedule of events for the World Holy Name Festival, but I do attend the existing harinamas in the places I reside during that time, and I was able, by the Lord’s grace, to organize three harinamas which would otherwise not have happened, one in Lvov, Ukraine, another in London, and the final one, at Tompkins Square Park in New York, where harinama began in the West.

Kharkov, Ukraine, Saturday night harinama, September 18:

About twenty devotees chant together in a park in downtown Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city, for three hours on Saturdays. Sahasra Jit Prabhu, the temple president, who has lots of devotion and a pleasant voice, led kirtana for much of the time.I am inspired when the temple leaders have a real commitment to harinama. Devotees tell me three to five new people come to their program each Sunday, most having learned about it either from the harinamas or from regular Sunday feast attendees.

Five ladies danced on one side of the singers, who sat on a piece of carpet, playing harmonium, mridanga, and karatalas. A slightly larger group of men danced on the other side, also in unison with each other, except one avadhuta, who is so spontaneous we cannot follow him.

Many people listened, some for quite a while. Some friends of the devotees also come just to listen. Many people took pictures. Krishna Dvaipayana Prabhu had a book table set up to one side of the party, while two other devotees distributed books to passersby, and another devotee, often Bhakta Andre, distributed prasadam and invitations.

Kharkov, Ukraine, Sunday night harinama, September 19:

Throughout the year, after the Kharkov Sunday feast program a party of devotees goes on harinama for two hours from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., even in their chilly winters. We had twenty devotees the week I was there, many fairly young, perhaps in their twenties and thirties. This is a walking harinama, except for when they stopped at a park near a Mc Donald’s, where they chanted to fifteen people, who happily watched. I was so very inspired to see the enthusiasm of the youthful devotees there. ISKCON is alive in Ukraine.

Lvov, Ukraine, an additional harinama on Wednesday, September 22:

I had a good experience doing harinama in Lvov (Lviv), Ukraine, last year, so I decided to try to organize another one this year. Usually they just do one on Saturday, but I appealed that because it was during the World Holy Name Festival and the week of both Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s appearance day and Haridasa Thakura’s disappearance day, that they should do an additional one on that Wednesday, the only day I could be there.

They set up a rug on the sidewalk leading up to the university, and played harmonium, mridanga, and karatalas. About twelve devotees came, mostly an older group than in Kharkov. One devotee lady distributed prasadam and invitations in front of the party. I was impressed to see the interest of the public. Usually there was always at least someone looking and listening, and sometimes as many as twenty, some lingering for quite a while! A few young people enjoyed imitating our dancing. I was pleased to see that so many devotees came out considering that it was midweek, and considering that we do not have a temple anymore in that town and thus the devotees are scattered.

London, England, additional harinama, Friday morning, September 24:

Monday through Friday afternoons, devotees chant for an hour and a half on Oxford Street, and Saturday night as many as fifty devotees will do harinama for two hours around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. On some mornings they also go out, but not Friday, so I begged Krishna Vidhi Prabhu, Soho’s most enthusiastic harinama person, that we could go out, as I was flying to New York and would miss the afternoon one, and he agreed. He and I chanted for an hour or an hour and a half on Oxford Street, and it was rewarding, even with just the two of us.

Philadelphia Ratha-yatra, Saturday, September 25:

I shall describe this Philadelphia Ratha-yatra in more detail elsewhere, but as it was a harinama event during the World Holy Name Festival I mention it here. They had a special treat this year—Haryasva Prabhu’s Panca-tattva deities from Govinda’s riding on a chariot before Lord Jagannatha. The sound system was great, and there were at least two amplified kirtanas during the parade, one with Vishnu Gada Prabhu leading, with the musicians on their own cart, between the Pancatattva and the Jagannatha deities, and one just before Lord Jagannatha’s cart as usual.

Manhattan 12-hour kirtana, Saturday, October 2:

Gauravani of Kindred Spirits and the devotees from the Bhakti Center have a monthly 12-hour kirtana program the first Saturday of each month, a great contribution to bhakti in NYC. A variety of people come, some devotees for many years like Dhanurdhara Swami, Laksmi Nrsimha Prabhu, Rama Raya, and Mother Arundhati, other devotees more youthful like Acyuta Gopi and Ananta, and yet others coming from yoga backgrounds. This month they had the kirtana at the Broome St. temple. This proved difficult for me, as I love to dance in the kirtana so much, but their landlord does not permit dancing there! I was, however, able to invite some of the people there to chant with me at Tompkins Square Park the following day.

Tompkins Square Park, Manhattan, additional harinama, Sunday, October 3:

I hoped that since Tompkins Square Park was where public chanting of Hare Krishna began in the West, I could round up more people for the event, but still twelve devotees came. Later I found it was the same day as the Queen’s Ratha-yatra.

We gathered at 26 2nd Avenue, the location of our original temple in Manhattan and chanted down 2nd Avenue till St. Marks and then eastward to Avenue A. We made our way to the Hare Krishna tree, where we sat and chanted for over two hours. One man, who happened to have a bag of flower petals, spontaneously offered handfuls of petals in front of the sitting kirtana party. We took turns chanting, with about five devotees getting a chance to lead. Ranga Devi, a kirtana singer from the UK was among the singers. Bhakta Dan, who is the harinama leader at the Bhakti Center, brought books for distribution. Ekayani Dasi collected emails to help organize future harinamas in New York. I talked to one man who loved watching the dancing of the devotees, staying for almost an hour and smiling the whole time. He had fond memories of attending the Hare Krishna Sunday feasts in the 1970s. A group of young ladies came by, some jokingly imitating our dance, and they eventually began dancing with the devotee ladies. Pawan Sandilya of Pune, India, who was visiting New York, took some photos personally and let other devotees take photos with his camera. He later commented, “It has been my pleasure to be with you all in the park. I don’t have words to express myself, how the Lord has been so merciful to me to give such opportunity.”

We read from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita about Srila Prabhupada’s original kirtanas in that park. We were amazed by all the details Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami gives in his description of the park. The bicycling kids, sportive kids, and drum players are still prominent features. Gone, however, are the many hippies who were attracted by the early kirtanas.

Tompkins Square Park is a special place. It was first place where devotees would regularly chant in public, each Sunday for three hours, beginning in October 1966, forty-four years ago. Srila Prabhupada himself came and chanted there, and so it is a like a place of pilgrimage. Last year an old man sitting of a park bench reading a book said to me, “Thank you for cleaning the air by your singing.” This year a man offered flower petals to our party, and another praised our dancing. Although this place is far away from Sridham Mayapur, where Lord Caitanya started his sankirtana movement, the spiritual energy of the Lord is also manifest here, causing people to appreciate bhakti, devotion to the Lord. My great hope is that each year we can do harinama here during the World Holy Name Festival, and that it may increase each year, without limit. In addition, we could plan for something especially wonderful for the 50th anniversary in October 2016. If you want to help make that happen, let me know. You can write me at Krsna-krpa.SDG at Also if you have any pictures of the harinamas I describe above, let me know so I can include them. Thanks.

All glories to the Sri Krishna Nama Sankirtana!